Author Topic: Chapter 4  (Read 6473 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 4
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:02:53 AM »
Chapter 4

"It's been almost a day since I woke up in the hospital," the recording continued, showing a deteriorating Petra. "The mark on my neck where.. whatever it was happened faded quickly, but I'm still showing all kinds of random symptoms. They were running tests, but it was clear they had no idea what was causing this, or how to fix it. I still can't eat or sleep, and I can barely think. I don't know where they took Didi either. I told the police most of what happened to us; obviously I had to leave some things out. From what I've heard they went to the battery factory but found it abandoned. Darius' place is cleaned out- no sign of him either. I.. don't know what to do. Maybe you do." With a despairing look, Petra reached out and shut off the camera.

Nick gave Chuck a concerned look. "Where is this Dierdre Halstaff now?"

"Darius tipped the VPD off, telling them where the Independent Soldiers were holding her. The IS destroyed whatever equipment Petra was using to spy on them, but a police team recovered Miss Halstaff about an hour ago. According to one of our people in the hospital, she's going to be fine. Well, physically anyway."

That was at least one good thing to come out of this whole mess, Chuck reflected. The last thing the Veil needed was more collateral damage right now. Nick looked out the window of their Vancouver base of operations, over the city beyond. It was much better than their usual view, and Chuck was enjoying it too. Even if it was way too cold up here. How did these people live like this?

"What about Halstaff's house, and Hildebrand's apartment? Have they been swept for evidence, aside from what she mentioned on the tape?"

Chuck shook his head. "Darius told the sweeper teams to hold off for now. If these women wanted to go public, they would have done so before now. He's concerned that taking the evidence will just make Miss Halstaff even more of a problem."

"He's probably right," Nick admitted. "What's Hildebrand's condition? With that kind of attack, she doesn't have long."

Chuck paused, confused. "I thought you knew. Darius took her to see Morty about half an hour ago."

"What?" Nick gaped at him.

This wasn't going to be pleasant. Chuck grimaced. "It's the only way to save her life- you know that."

"Yes, but the diplomatic fallout will be enormous! We're already walking a tightrope with Fear and Rage; this news will.. well, enrage them. Even Hope and Contentment might take this badly!" Nick started pacing up and down. "We have to get ahead of this. Reach out to Contentment and see if she'll be willing to help with training, and get me everything you know about this Petra woman. Finances, history, training, family, childhood education- if she had a pet in grade school, I want to know its name. Everything."

"It's already being compiled," Chuck said soothingly, "and I already contacted Contentment. She says she'll do what she can when the time comes. I'm sorry, Nick. I know how much this meant to you."

"It doesn't matter now," he responded curtly. "What's done is done, and we have to deal with the consequences before we have the luxury of placing blame."

Chuck resisted the urge to shake his head. Same old Nick. He wore his heart on his sleeve most of the time, and he had to be in agony right now, but as usual the needs of the Veil took first priority. He was a company man through and through. It was a good thing the Veil wasn't financially motivated like other companies though, Chuck remembered gratefully. "How long does the process usually take?" He asked, more to fill the silence than out of actual curiosity.

Nick shrugged. "Usually no more than an hour, but Hildebrand is in bad shape. It might take longer because she's dying. Then days or weeks for her to adjust to her new circumstances. We have to take her to the island as soon as they get back, though. She won't have a moment's peace here in a city like this."

"What about the REMP? Won't it be just as distracting to her?"

"No, we'll shut it off before she wakes up. As the Veil second-in-command, I have the authority to do that without Darius' approval. I doubt he'll be upset though- not in these circumstances. We'll have to turn it back on eventually, but it won't be so bad if she's in one of the upper levels. She should have some time that way."

Chuck nodded skeptically. The REMP was their primary defense and had been for decades, but it wasn't the only safeguard they had. Still, shutting it down just to suit one person seemed a bit indulgent. Even if that one person was as important as Petra apparently was. He raised a hand to Nick's shoulder, but then paused. "I'm sorry Nick," he repeated, realizing how little it must mean to him. "I don't know what Darius is thinking either, but we have to trust that he knows what's right."

Nick's lips tightened and his fists clenched, but he nodded. "Right. Trust is easy when things are going smoothly. It's important when things get rough." He turned away, probably to go back to the island and get things ready, but Chuck noted he hadn't actually agreed with him.

-.-

It wasn't exactly sleep, but Petra was waking up from it.

Her whole body ached, and she groaned softly. Her tremors seemed to have stopped for now, but she had a fever again. Petra put a hand to her forehead, and pulled it away sweaty. Her stomach grumbled and her migraine seemed to be on its way back as well. Most of that was forgotten at least briefly, when she opened her eyes. She wasn't at home anymore!

She was lying on a couch, in a very weird-looking living room. A collection of ancient masks were hanging on one wall, and a sword rack displaying multiple ancient blades was propped up against another. She sat up with difficulty, and could see a kitchen adjoining the other side of the room. The fridge looked old but functional: one of those that had the cooling element on top of the box instead of behind or beneath it. The stove was similarly dated, looking like it might also run on wood as well as gas or electric. There was a wrapped loaf of bread leaning against it- a baguette.

Where was she? The only visible door was closed, and all the windows were completely shuttered. Groaning again, Petra got up and tried to open one only to find it was locked. Despite the electric fridge, all the lighting in here came from three gas lamps equally spaced on the walls. Whoever lived here had apparently readied the house for a storm or something. Strangely, there was a videocamera set up in one of the far corners, pointed down at the ground. It looked modern, in contrast to the rest of this place. From the way it was angled, Petra thought whoever used it was viewing footage recorded elsewhere. Whatever recordings had been on it were gone, though. Someone had deleted them.

At least the door wasn't locked when she tried it. She turned the knob slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible, and pushed it open. Petra gasped. There.. was nothing out there! Ahead, and side to side, was nothing but an empty blackness, stretching out as far as she could see!

This had to be a dream. A fever nightmare most likely. Still, now that the shock had faded slightly, Petra was curious. She almost reached her arm out the door, but thought better of it. She looked around for something she could pick up, and finally settled on the sword rack. She grabbed one of the shorter blades, labeled on the rack as a gladius, and slowly extended it out the door into the blackness. It didn't vanish or anything, so she took a deep breath and reached a leg out for something to stand on.

"What. The. Hell???" She whispered to herself as she left the building. This was so strange! She could stand on.. whatever it was, but she couldn't see it! Before long she was outside, looking back through the open door and wondering what could possibly come next.

She could see the cottage from the outside now, which also appeared to be floating in midair with nothing supporting it. There was another floating object too, just to the right of the door. Petra had missed it on the way out because it had been blocked by the door. It looked like a circular disc of stone, about two meters in diameter. Closer inspection revealed it was covered with tiny script, but in no language she knew. There were also muddy bootprints on one side of it- too large to be hers.

As she made her way around the cottage, hoping fervently that the invisible floor continued outwards indefinitely, Petra could make out voices ahead. She gripped the sword tightly. She didn't know a thing about fencing or swordplay, but hopefully whoever was on the other side of the building didn't know that.

She peeked around the edge and could see two men talking a few meters away. One was Darius, looking angry and determined. The other was a tall, skeletally thin man with gray hair and pale skin. He looked imperiously down at Darius, but he kept his tone hushed as well.

The taller one noticed her immediately, and held up a hand to Darius. "She's awake."

Darius spun, and the frustration in his face instantly transformed into worry. "You shouldn't be out here. You shouldn't even be up and about! We have to get you back inside right now."

He moved towards her, but Petra raised the sword towards him and he came to a stop. "Whoa there. Back off, Darius. I don't know what's going on, or what the hell is happening to me, but I deserve some answers!" In the worst possible timing, her tremors started again, making the sword shake as well.

The other man just stayed where he was, and Darius sighed. "This isn't at all how I hoped we would meet again. I'm sorry about all this. Let's just go inside, and I'll explain what I can."

"This isn't a dream," Petra insisted, knowing that for sure now. "It can't be some kind of virtual reality, or a sensory deprivation chamber," she tried to stomp the ground with her foot to make a noise. There wasn't any. "Where on earth are we??"

"That's just it," he said gently. "We're not on earth."

-.-

"Another dimension," Petra said skeptically, back inside the impossible cabin within the impossible black void.

"That's right. This one neighbors our own, but it doesn't have any stars or planets."

On Darius' insistence, Petra was lying down on the couch again. She felt ridiculous, but it was probably for the best. Right now she didn't trust her legs to hold her up. The tall guy, Morty, was out of sight in the kitchen, and Darius was sitting in a chair across from her.

Petra was no physicist, so she couldn't tell if Darius was telling the truth, or if she was just slipping into madness. "If there aren't any planets here, how is there air to breathe?"

Darius smiled. "Morty did that. He arranged all of this to be suitable to humans: air pressure and contents, temperature, a floor to stand on. It's all earth-standard here, but if you go too far out, you'll suffocate."

"I take it you're not human, then," Petra said wryly, peeking over the top of the couch at Morty. He gave her a level look, and shook his head.

"There is no word for what Morty is," Darius explained. "Suffice it to say this entire dimension is his domain. He has complete control over what matter exists and doesn't exist here. Except for that videocamera over there and a few other odds and ends, he willed all of this into being. He took on that appearance as well, so he could interact with humans like us."

Petra shook her head, and winced as the migraine shook back. She had about a billion questions now, but her tremors were back as well. "How- no, why did you bring me here?"

Darius looked down for a moment. "The creature that attacked you in the battery factory was called a fade. It disrupted the electromagnetic field running through your body and damaged your hypothalamusm among other things. That's why your temperature is all over the place. No one at the hospital has even heard of a fade or what they can do, so they couldn't help you. Morty can."

"Wait a minute," Morty cut in, coming out from the kitchen. "She was attacked by a fade? You brought her here to save her life? You said you chose her as your successor!"

"And I did," Darius replied. "Why I did it doesn't matter. The result will be the same."

"It's not the same at all! Your successor was supposed to go through years of training for this. She didn't even know I'm not human! You can't just.. select some injured person off the street and expect me to go along with it!"

"The right to choose is mine, Morty," Darius said flatly. "You gave me that right. Are you disputing it now?"

Their gazes were locked in some kind of mental battle for a few moments, before Morty looked away. "Stupid, stubborn humans. No, I'm not disputing anything. But you aren't doing her any favors by choosing her. She might be better off just dying in peace."

His words rattled around in Petra's head for a moment. Ever since the attack she'd been afraid of that possibility. Propping herself up on one elbow, she looked between the two of them. "What the hell is going on here? So I am dying?"

Darius sighed. "Yes. The EM disruption is starting to affect your involuntary functions. Before long your heart won't beat regularly anymore. Actually, I'm surprised you made it this long. Most people attacked like that don't last more than a day."

"But you said Morty can help me," Petra glanced up at the old man. Or alien. Whatever he was.

Morty growled in frustration and moved around the couch. "Enough, Darius. Since you're apparently too thickheaded to change your mind, we might as well get this done right now." He reached out to Darius with one arm, and Petra with the other, but Petra shrunk away from him.

Darius also grabbed Morty, stopping him. "Wait. This has to be her choice as well. Like it was for me."

"Again with the false equivalencies!" Morty threw up his hands. "You made an informed decision! You knew what you were getting into. It could take days to tell her everything she needs to know!"

Ignoring him, Darius took Petra's hands. "Yes, Morty can save your life, but you should know that this is a one-way trip. You've barely scratched the surface of the world I live in but if you do this, you'll have to join the Veil. You'll be a part of this world forever. You'll never have anything even close to a normal life again. The vast majority of people out there, like your friend Didi, have no idea what we do or why, and it has to stay that way. You'll be forced to keep that secret as well. Are you prepared for that?"

Petra could feel her heartbeat speeding up. But it was getting irregular, too. She didn't have much time.

She had no idea what Darius was doing, or what this Veil group was. If she went ahead with this, it would be like diving into a pool before checking if it had any water! Plus, Morty had said she might be better off dead. Keeping secrets from her friends, from her mom, might become torture for Petra.

But hadn't she crossed that bridge already? Her mom knew nothing about Darius' apparent agelessness, or Petra working with Didi to find out the truth. Petra's very job required her to put a barrier between herself and people, even if it was a camera meant to capture their appearance and personality.

Finally, she looked up at Morty and nodded. Looking sour, he placed one hand on the back of Darius' neck, and the other on hers. Like it had back in that factory, energy pulsed through her, and she passed out again.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 01:42:43 AM by Daen »